The Hammersmith Teds, and the birth of youth culture

THE HAMMERSMITH TEDS
Alan A Hillier
  
The Hammersmith Teds
I called round to see my old Man on Monday this week and took him out for a few late afternoon beers.
The March sun glistened unseasonably as it sat arrogantly over the North London rooftops. Shafts of brilliant yellow sunlight blazed brightly through the half windows of one of my dad’s favorite Finchley watering holes, when suddenly, from inside his jacket pocket, he pulled a photocopy of a vivid looking black and white photograph.
Fumbling once again inside his jacket his hand finally emerged clutching his reading glasses which he slowly and purposely put on. He held the picture at arms length and had a long, long look before he quietly handed it to me.
I was now gazing at a dazzling and dynamic picture of a young Teddy boy and a bunch of his friends outside in the streets of North London way back in the fifties.
“That’s your uncle Dave and a bunch of his pals at the small party we had to celebrate your birth on March 17th 1958”.
This animated picture of Dave and his mates, which showed them dressed in full ”˜Teddy boy’ regalia, was an amazing ”˜snapshot’ of a very important moment in  ”˜pop cultural’ history. All the lads in the picture were proudly displaying that easy 1950’s ration book ”˜skinny’ post war style, which enhanced the big, fat, honest toothy grins that lit up their youthful faces.
 At that time in March 1958 my uncle Dave was just 18.
That photograph and the resulting conversation with my dad called to mind an occasion back in early 1975 when (With most of the other Finchley Boys) I went to see a Thin Lizzie gig at Hammersmith Odeon in West London. 
 
At this time Thin Lizzie were a well-respected solid rock band who had produced some decent records, ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ was (and still is) a good example and became an anthem for us Pre Punk.  
Some of the Finchley Boys  were into Glaswegian rock lunatic (and in my mind, a long forgotten and undoubted punk pioneer) Alex Harvey, I had been since 1972 and even though we were not really Lizzie fans, the Thin Lizzy gig still looked worth the trip across town to West London.
We were always looking for something to light our fuse, especially on the weekend.
Bass player and singer Phil Lynott would later become an acquaintance’ of Jean Jacques’s Burnel of the Stranglers and J.J  might even say that they were friends. I’m not entirely sure which it was, but I do know that Phil Lynott could occasionally be found at Johns flat on the railway bridge at West Hampstead station. 
Before the gig we decided to have a couple of beers and chose a pub called the ”˜George’ on Hammersmith Broadway.
I was amazed when we emerged in to the saloon bar to find the place packed out with ”˜Teddy Boys’.
There must have been at least thirty of them, along with their equally flamboyant ”˜birds’. The dramatic color of their eccentric cloths was stunning. Light blue, bright orange and crimson red Edwardian suits were nestled comfortably amongst bright Yellow and turquoise satin and lace, it was like walking into a Picasso painting of a bowl of fresh fruit salad.
Surrounded by all this human memorabilia I remember thinking to myself, how fucking stupid they all looked in their drapes; drainpipe trousers; bootlace ties, quiffed up brylcremed hair and brothel creepers. A bunch of retro rockers, lost in space. 
Thirty ”˜James Deans’ on the loose from the local sanatorium?
One flew over the freaking ‘Rock n Roll’ Cukoos nest. Or what…
 
At first, I thought that they looked a pretty sad bunch, obsessed with resurrecting the fashions and listening to the music of a bygone era. Trying to cling to the social conventions of someone else’s wild youth, which had disappeared a decade and a half earlier, seemed child like and nothing to do with the real world as it was then. I felt that they were so hideously ”˜out of time,’ so fucking ”˜old’ and most definitely from a place and a time that had absolutely nothing to do with me.
 We had a few beers and the longer we were in that bar the more interesting these confident, flamboyant people became to me.
 After a while, a tall skinny ‘Teddy boy felt ”˜moved’ to dance.
I don’t know whether his favorite song had just started playing on the ”˜Rockola’ jukebox but he suddenly leapt to his feet to great excitement and applause from all those that surrounded him.
His spontaneous reaction to this particular song was so genuine and boyishly enthusiastic that it made me laugh out loud. This guy looked amazing and believe me when I tell you, this guy could dance.
His athleticism drew respectful glances from all of us and his technical ability and ”˜obvious’ understanding of what he was doing was brilliantly undeniable as he boogied to his favorite track. His impulsive performance was concluded without the slightest suggestion of self-consciousness and the whole thing was mesmerizing. 
 
I respected him for that.
He returned to his seat to howls of appreciation from his fellow Teds and for the rest of the time that I was in that bar I just could not take my eyes off of them.
Thinking about Those  Hammersmith Teds now, I realize that there was not a hint of ”˜retro’ about these people, as I had initially thought.
These were not ”˜revivalists’ out on a Saturday ”˜jolly up’ just to show off. These people were not wearing all this authentic ”˜clobber’ simply to augment the restored 59 T Bird that was parked out on the Hammersmith Roundabout. These guys were not part of some rock n roll appreciation society lost in time in 1975. They were not in this pub strutting their stuff merely to satisfy some recent fascination with a youth culture which was never their own. How could I have overlooked that……  
These guys were the real thing and it strikes me now that those people packing the bar in the George on Hammersmith Broadway in all there Edwardian finery way back then, had they also been 18 (or younger like my Uncle Dave) in 1958 would still only have been in there early to mid thirties in 1975. 
 
These days it’s not so hard for me to imagine why the Hammersmith Teddy Boys of 1975 wanted to hang on to the memories, traditions and culture of a time when everything made so much sense to them? The events they participated in and indeed were responsible for creating were so active in bringing about fundamental social changes in youth culture, the effects of which are still prevalent today.
They certainly had a huge effect on my life and almost certainly your life whether you know it or not.
Would we have had the Skinheads, the Pistols, the Clash or the Stranglers without the Teddy Boys youth cultural revolution of the late fifties?
In my opinion, the answer to that is a reverberating ”˜No’. 
 
The Teddy Boys of 1954/58 almost certainly paved the way for all of us in Great Britain to stake a claim in our teenage years.  Before these lads (and lasses), teenagers were merely an adolescent extension of their parents who had no choice but to suppress a tormented and anxious period in their lives that they could not wish away quicker.
British adolescents at the end of the 1940’s and the beginning of the 1950’s looked like their parents, dressed like their parents and had the same interests as their parents and it was Rock n Roll and the Teddy Boy phenomenon of the fifties that changed all that. 
From 1958 to 1968 we had the beginnings of the teenage revolution, Elvis, the Beatles, Radio Caroline, Carnaby Street, transistor radios and some of the worst fashions ever to abuse the eyeballs.  The teenage bandwagon had been given a nudge and was now rolling down hill and quickly picked up speed on its unstoppable one-way journey.
 As it went trundling on, the worlds marketing men quickly ”˜smelt’ the massive social importance of it all and set about creating the teenage system of relentless exploitation that we are all still subjected to today.
Disco’s, coffee bars, rock concerts, uppers, downers and (LSD), Mods, Rockers and the beginnings of ”˜free love’. Never in the social history of the world were there so many distracting, entertaining, opportunities available for adolescent youth.
Strangely and possibly most amazing of all, amid all the muddled experimentation of the late sixties and in spite of all of the influential wisdom of the Marahisi Mahesh Yogi with the Beatles and the nationwide obsession with flower power, peace, love and petuli oil, another youth culture was evolving right alongside it.
 The Skinheads.
 But I’ll deal with that on it’s own………..
What strikes me quite clearly now in 2011 about my initial reaction to my encounter with those magnificent Hammersmith Teddy Boys back in 1975 was the fact that I had not given them any creditability for having been right there in the first place.
They were undoubtedly ”˜original’, but like most 17 year olds we thought the world was ‘NOW’ and the ‘PAST’ was dead and gone the following day
How wrong can you be?
Although I’m almost certain that most of us who were involved with the punk explosion back in the seventies no longer participate in the ”˜corporate’ fashions of the punk era (Not that we ever did), I do believe that a relationship and undeniable enjoyment of the music and inbuilt respect for the ethos of those particular times, will always remains intact, well it certainly does for me. You simply cannot forget that kind of experience however old you get
The fifties saw Elvis, the Teddy Boys and the beginnings of the biker generation, the sixties saw the hippies and latterly the Mods and the skins, which in turn saw the events of the seventies transformed by the Punk explosion.
We all have our distinctive time. We all live within those time frames and we are all subjected to whatever goes along with it…..we simply have no choice. 
As for the Hammersmith Teds I send them all my deepest respect and a belated apology for my Juvenile behavior back in 1975, for without them I might not be right here, right now, at all.
c    Alan A Hillier
March 2011 
 

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